An abiding desire to grow more good food is evident at The Metro Atlanta Urban Farm (MAUF). Some of that evidence is in experiments and unconventional practices seen throughout the farm. One recent experiment at the urban farm is turmeric.
When I visited the farm and its community garden last week, one volunteer, Mr. Moses (Robert) Cobb, showed me around the farm, which includes ginger and turmeric plants. These plants are his own project, and they are beautiful.
He told me that the project originally was to grow ginger. He had bought some rhizomes, the thick root-like part that we use in the kitchen, at a grocery store to grow, but they never did grow for him. He suspected that they had been treated with something to prevent sprouting.
He finally was able to get some fresh, untreated ginger rhizomes. A friend had located and mailed them to him, and the packet, when it arrived, included turmeric rhizomes.
If you want to grow turmeric and ginger
Moses noted that ginger is a slow grower for him. Right now, it is protected in a glass-house. The ginger is growing in several pots. The plants look healthy, but the rhizomes do not appear to be spreading robustly across their containers.
The turmeric, however, is growing very well. Moses started the rhizomes together in one container, but he has separated and divided and had to rustle up additional large-size containers to transplant them into.
Moses has found that the turmeric does best when grown in partial shade. Too much sun results in burnt leaves.
Time-to-harvest for ginger and turmeric
An article out of North Carolina State University (NCSU) about growing turmeric and ginger tells that both of these crops can produce new rhizomes in the eight months of growing time that many gardeners in the Southeastern US have.
The article points out that neither of these plants will survive a freeze. In addition, the growing season is too short, across much of the Southeastern US, for the turmeric to form the thick skin that helps it “keep” through the winter.
Turmeric plants need a full twelve months for their rhizomes to develop that thicker skin. NCSU suggests planting in containers that can be moved indoors or into a greenhouse, to produce the more mature rhizomes if those are your goal.
Starting ginger and turmeric plants from rhizomes
This is NCSU’s information on sprouting rhizomes for both ginger and turmeric:
To initiate sprouts, place a 1.5” piece of rhizome in potting media with ample moisture in a warm, humid location (72-80 degrees F) for 4-6 weeks. A tray with a plastic dome or some kind of enclosed container is ideal to keep in moisture, but light is not necessary until the sprouts start growing. You can sprout either mature, shelf-stable rhizomes, or baby rhizomes may also produce sprouts. Once they have sprouted, gradually harden them off before planting. Take the plants outside an hour or two per day, gradually increasing that time, for approximately two weeks before transplanting outside.Read more at: https://caldwell.ces.ncsu.edu/2018/10/ginger-and-turmeric-tropical-superfoods-for-the-garden/
Where to get good rhizomes
Rhizomes are the root-like part that we use in the kitchen for both of these plants. The rhizomes are also what we plant in the soil for growing new plants. Many of the rhizomes in grocery stores, as Moses found, won’t sprout.
Not all of us have a friend who can send us fresh, untreated rhizomes, but some seed companies sell them. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, in Virginia, sells turmeric rhizomes and ginger and turmeric plants. Fedco Seeds, up in Maine, also sells ginger and turmeric pieces for sprouting.
Neither of these sources sells the rhizomes year-round, and shipping is limited to March/April. Plan to order early if you want to grow these, because it looks like supplies may be limited.
Why grow turmeric at home?
The glossy green leaves and spectacular flowers are reason-enough to try growing this plant at home. The plant is beautiful! Some of us, though, also use a little turmeric in our cooking. For veggie gardeners who like to “grow their own” as much as possible, adding this spice to the landscape is a big win.
Also, although I do not typically spend much time looking into specific health benefits of each and every veg, herb, spice, and fruit that I grow, some gardeners do. My gardening friends who pay more attention to chemical properties of plants probably already have found loads of research about the health-boosting benefits of turmeric.
Elsewhere on The Metro Atlanta Urban Farm
Like in gardens all across the Southeastern US, weeds are gaining ground in spots, and some crops are starting to look a little ragged. Tomato plants in particular are beginning to slow down. Tomato plants growing in the high tunnels, though, that are protected from rainfall, had healthier looking leaves than plants that are exposed to rain.
Many of the melons are growing on hugelkultur mounds. The farm is producing a LOT of watermelons this year, and they all look good. Hugelkultur beds, which are built on and around piles of woody debris, maintain an even moisture level, which is a big boost for many crops. (How to build your own hugelkutur bed is described in this Permaculture News article.)
The melon areas have a lot of weeds growing in them, but this seemed to be helpful in one particular way. When I volunteered at a farm here in Cobb County, any melons that touched the bare ground ended up with a “belly rot”. We had to find the developing fruit and place a protective barrier (styrofoam tray, plastic sheeting) under each one to prevent this rot from invading the melons.
At MAUF this week, I didn’t see any belly rot on the melons. This could be because the thick weeds formed a barrier that held the melons away from the soil. The potential for rot-prevention may be a good reason to leave some weeds, strategically, around the garden.
Another experiment on the farm, in one of the high tunnels, was growing strawberries in long fabric tubes. The fabric tubes had been filled with growing medium (soil). The plants were planted in slits made on the top side of the tube. The plants looked good, so this probably counts as a successful experiment.
When I asked Moses about the baby plants growing on the long runners that the original strawberry plants were sending out, he said that in a few weeks, as the little plants developed more of their own roots, he would be planting those.
The Metro Atlanta Urban Farm
The farm (MAUF) includes a community garden, and it also assists other community gardens and school gardens in Atlanta. I visited the farm because Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds had sent me a box full of lovely seeds.
I had already shared some of the seeds at a meeting of Cobb Community Gardens, a group of garden coordinators and other garden leaders. Participants at that meeting all took some seeds back to their community gardens, but there were still seed packets left. To get more of the seeds into the hands of gardeners who could use them, I contacted Bobby Wilson, co-founder of MAUF.
MAUF’s work with so many area gardens means the seeds will get distributed to even more gardeners.